JOPLIN — Concerns about how a 9/11 concert in Joplin was being funded prompted country music star Travis Tritt to cancel his appearance as headliner one day after the local Convention and Visitor's Bureau announced he would be performing.
Tritt's withdrawal followed an outpouring of anger after a Joplin Globe story on Friday reported money from a disaster relief fund was being used as seed money to pay the costs of the concert. Organizers said donations at the concert and money from corporate sponsors would be returned to the fund to replace what was taken out for expenses.
Visitor's Bureau Director Patrick Tuttle announced Thursday that Tritt would headline the concert on Sunday and sing the national anthem at a ceremony that morning in honor of the National 9/11 Flag in connection with the terrorist attacks in 2001.
Joplin is the last disaster-stricken city to receive the flag before it goes to a New York museum commemorating 9/11, the Globe reported.
City Manager Mark Rohr on Tuesday told the city council that the Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri was to provide up to $60,000 from a tornado relief fund to cover costs of the concert.
Thursday, Tuttle told the newspaper expenses included pay for the performers, travel of the performers and sound and lighting services.
Foundation spokeswoman Louise Knauer on Friday said Rohr had asked the group's board to lend the city the money to pay for the concert.
"It was supposed to be a recoverable loan," she said. "The city had an urgent timetable to raise the funds to secure this national artist" for the 9/11 concert.
"They were looking for upfront costs," she said, "with the intent the money would be repaid in a week's time."
The tornado fund has taken in more than $1.3 million in donations, and a board just finished the first round of expenditures — $300,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations to provide services to tornado victims, Knauer said.
The city has established a different fund, the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund, to take donations for projects or services the city wants to fund. Knauer said the city could have taken the concert money out of that fund, but didn't do so because administrators are working on procedures for granting the money and auditing the fund.
Tuttle said corporate sponsorships would pick up a chunk of the concert costs.
"There are sponsors being sought to offset the costs, but it (the money from the Community Foundation) is there to work with if we need it," he told the Globe.
After the story was published, people started lashing out on the Facebook pages of both the city and Tritt's fans.
Knauer said the foundation board that agreed to the loan "knew it was for the Sept. 11 event and there was this opportunity for a national concert. It (the request) wasn't specific about who the artist was or the specific upfront costs."
Mayor Mike Woolston said it was unfortunate that Tritt backed out and that the singer was misinformed about how the funding developed.
He said it was his understanding that donors or sponsors could not be solicited until the performers would be announced, but the performers could not be booked until production costs were guaranteed.
Woolston said sponsorships for the costs had been secured on Friday and donations were to be raised through text messaging.